The Valley of Allah
Denial in Afghanistan
NATO’s response to Monday’s rocket attack on Bagram Airbase, injuring two and damaging the C-17 transport aircraft used by U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, underscores why we are losing and will lose the war in Afghanistan.
Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in his bunk sleeping when the rockets hit the base late Monday, according to Reuters.
“He was nowhere near the aircraft. We think it was a lucky shot,” NATO senior spokesman Colonel Thomas Collins said in the Reuters report by Rob Taylor.
A lucky shot?
This is a typical response from our military, which now includes NATO, whenever the so-called insurgents, or the Taliban, embarrass us by showing they know what they’re doing in battle. They’re either lucky or they’re cowards because they just won’t come out and fight us, as if they should be good little redcoats constrained by 18th century military tactics. As if we’re still crossing the Delaware in boats, freezing our limbs off.
The response, of course, is laughable. And counterproductive. And counterintuitive. And behind it lies unspoken anxiety, the kind that shuns reality. It’s called denial, one powerful demon.
The Reuters story, in fact, belies the thoughtless response by pointing out that the base is occasionally rocketed and mortared, as is the airbase in Kandahar. In other words, the Taliban gets lucky time and time again.
The landscape outside Bagram elicits Shakespearean foreboding, the Hindu Kush to the north with reminders of a deadly past, the Somali Plains to the south with echoes of horror, the road to Bagram still littered with the death of empire. The people living there, and into the Panjshir Valley, are some of the poorest on the planet, but they know how to survive, and they have for thousands of years. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British, the Soviets – they all met demise in the area. Eisenhower – how we need him now – landed there in the 1950s after the U.S. basically built the airbase, only to have it commandeered by the Soviets from 1979-89 – all for naught.
The airbase essentially embodies history that keeps repeating itself, as if the universe has marked it as a spot for episodic human folly and human evil. It’s hard to imagine a worse place – except, perhaps, an Oprah Winfrey audience.
No, Monday’s attack had nothing to do with luck. The reporter should have pushed the Public Information Obstructer on this matter, rather than slop his mindless crap to the public. The attack actually follows a long string of them, including one in 2007 when then-Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting the base. That attack, by a suicide bomber out for Cheney, killed around 20 and injured 20 others.
To his credit, the reporter mentions the 2007 attack, but only in passing, and he doesn’t mention the casualties. He also apparently doesn’t, as he should have, push the PIO on his notion of “luck” and report the man’s response.
The PIO basically gets a free lie, and then the reporter quickly turns his focus to the general and why he came to Bagram, to discuss “green-on-blue” attacks that, so far this year, have killed 40 coalition troops, most of them Americans.
Then the story gets funny. Intended or not, Dempsey comes off like a certifiable idiot, praising his Afghan counterpart for raising the “green-on-blue” matter before he did.
“In the past, it’s been us pushing on them to make sure they do more,” the story quotes him saying. “This time, without prompting, when I met General [Sher Mohammad] Karimi, he started with a conversation about insider attacks – and, importantly, insider attacks not just against us, but insider attacks against the Afghans, too.”
That’s supposed to be a good sign? Afghan soldiers and police are killing coalition troops regularly, and Dempsey’s pleased that Karimi brings up the subject without prodding. What did he expect from Karimi, a refusal to talk about “green-on-blue” attacks, now dubbed “insider attacks” by our Orwellian Pentagon, even though he knew that’s why Dempsey came to Bagram?
Dempsey clearly doesn’t understand Afghans or their hospitality tradition, which amounts to a religious and ethical law, derived from the centuries-old concept of Pashtunwali:
“Honor the guest, O son,” one Afghan proverb goes. “Even though he be an infidel, open the door.”
Another, my favorite, goes something like this: “You can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.”
Pashtunwali also demands bravery, or tureh, which calls on all Afghans to resist, to the death, all invaders.
Tellingly, Dempsey left Afghanistan on a different aircraft.